Our new next-door neighbors moved in a few weeks ago. Last weekend, glasses of wine in hand, we took them on a tour of our garden. It was an unexpected educational experience for all of us.
|This is where our new neighbors|
They moved to Medfield from Boston's South End where they lived in a condo at the corner of Mass Ave. and Columbus. Now, they have two acres in the suburbs, a toddler, a second child on the way, and a hyperkinetic dog with a worrisome attachment to its chew toys.
They were drawn to Medfield by the sense of community. When they were driving around, looking at places they’d like to live, one of our neighbors took the time to talk with them about our little cul-de-sac. They also say they took a long look at the part of our garden that is visible from the road and liked what they saw.
|This is their new home. Both photos|
encompass roughly two acres
Now, they have the opportunity to put their stamp – in reality, the first-ever stamp – on a 17-year-old home’s landscaping. The house’s previous owners – financial services professionals who both worked long hours and were frequently out of town – left all landscaping decisions to a firm that apparently believed that it was a sin to spread anything less than a dump truck full of mulch on a bed. What our new neighbors bought is basically two acres of over-fertilized grass.
I expected we’d be asked a lot of questions and we would provide sound information. What I didn’t expect was to discover that the questions they asked us would be as interesting to us as the answers we gave them.
|Don't call a forest pansy redbud|
a cercis canadensis. You sound
like a garden snob
Here’s what I learned: as gardeners, we take far too much for granted. We use an intimidating shorthand and jargon that we should securely lock away in a vault when we talk to someone who is just getting started. We believe that pointing in the general direction of a plant from fifty feet away is as useful as walking up to the plant and touching it. No, it isn’t. Touching is a very good thing.
Here’s what else I learned: sometimes, we’re inadvertent snobs. We assume that everyone has long since sorted through the false marketing claims and emotional appeals that bombard consumers, and can filter facts from hype. No, we can’t. Never assume that the person you’re speaking with has read a certain article or heard ‘that expert’ speak.
Nowhere does this insider/outsider gulf become more evident than when talking about ‘organic’. At the top of our neighbors’ wish list for their lawn is having a safe, pesticide-free environment for their children’s long-term health and well-being. But what, exactly, is ‘organic’? My somewhat cynical answer is that ‘organic’ is a more expensive version of whatever a marketer is already selling; a means of picking the pockets of unwary homeowners.
|But, at the same time,|
'oxydendrum' sounds a
lot better to the ear
So, for two hours, we explored the garden. We talked the benefits of ‘natives’, of compost and of water barrels. We said it was OK to have clover in the lawn and that a modest amount of insect damage to trees and shrubs means moths, butterflies and beneficial insects are finding food. We talked drainage and plants that hold hillsides in place. We went shrub-by-shrub through one bed, talking about each one’s virtues and limitations.
Along the way I learned that ‘forest pansy redbud’ is a lot easier name to remember than ‘cercis canadensis’ but that ‘oxydendrum’ is a much more appealing name for a tree than ‘sourwood’.
It has been thirty-five years since Betty and I purchased our first home, a brownstone in Brooklyn with a concrete front yard and a back yard that had been used as a dog’s ‘convenience’ for more years than any bib of grass should be asked to endure. I think about everything we didn’t know and all the misconceptions we brought to those first projects. A number of houses later, we know a lot more than we did in 1978. The wonderful thing is, we’re still learning.
I like our new neighbors. They bring energy and enthusiasm to a big job. Fair from being naive, they understand that theirs is a long-term undertaking and they’re going to tackle it one project at a time. Watching and helping will be fun.